How to select fabrics for block printing


You know that saying, "Fly by the seat of your pants"?

Well, when I started getting hired to print huge orders of fabric, I embraced that as my daily motto.

Once, a designer asked me for 6 yards of my fabric in a custom color. 

It was for throw pillows, and I had only been block printing on a bolt of thin white linen I had stored in my studio..because bolts of fabric are expensive, and I had finally found one I liked.

I always printed on that so I didn't even think twice.

Well, it turned out that she needed a much thicker fabric. She told me that she would just have it knit-backed after I sent it to her.

I said, "Yes! That's a great idea!" ...then promptly got off the phone and Googled "knit-back fabric".

After that encounter I realized that they make different fabric weights for a reason (ok, ok, I knew, I was just being lazy!), and I should probably make more of an effort in this area.

Through various projects over the past few years, I've used my printing process on different types, weights and colors of fabrics...and I've seen a lot of what works and what doesn't.

People always ask me what fabrics are best, so in this post I'll be talking all about fabric selection for your block printing projects...whether it's a little tote bag, or a giant upholstery project!

Choosing the right fabrics for your projects can really make a difference in the end result of your prints. If you want to make sure your designs see their full potential in the printing stage, make sure to pay attention!

Video Breakdown!

As you may know, there are SO many types of fabric out there. I wanted to make this super simple for you to understand, so I made a quick video breaking down a few types of fabric, and I also explain why or why not they are good for block printing on fabric.

Check out the video below to learn more about which fabrics make great prints, and what to avoid when block printing:

When selecting fabrics for block printing, you’ll need to consider:

  • the end use of your fabric

  • how wrinkly will your fabric get?

  • how tightly it’s woven

  • how course is the fabric?

  • how durable does it need to be?

As you can see in the image below, the same block print in the same color on different fabrics can drastically effect your end result.

AfterlightImage (3).JPG

Another important thing is to understand the difference between natural and synthetic fibers, and what specific fabrics to avoid.

I only print on natural fabrics for my projects, but that’s just my preference. I like natural fibers that breathe well and have a natural look. My top choices are Linen and Cotton/Linen blends. Silk is also nice (if you fancy).

Generally I stay away from anything with wool in it because it’s too fuzzy. Fuzzy fabrics are terrible for printing. Cotton fleece included. They gunk up your ink and make your design hard to see.

Synthetic fabrics are usually made from some kind of plastic or chemicals. I think I’d avoid anything completely synthetic. But...they also make fabric “blends” with a mix of natural and synthetic, which sometime helps synthetic fibers perform better.

Some Cotton/Polyester blends are not bad and feel really soft. I’ve made scarves from these stretchy knit fabrics and had surprisingly good results. (Similar to t-shirt fabric).

block printed scarf

When creating your prints, you also need to take into consideration the end result of your fabric.

What will the fabric be used for? How will it wear?

If you’re recovering a chair you don’t want a knit fabric that will stretch out and rip. Likewise, if you’re making a scarf, you wouldn’t choose an upholstery fabric.

If you’re putting a white printed fabric on a chair in a high traffic area, you’re asking for dirt and stains, so in that case you’ll want a darker, busier print. Leave the lighter colors for the washable pillow cases, or the rooms with less traffic.

You’ll want to make a tablecloth out of something you can wash easily, and hang a curtain or drape with a woven, not knit fabric (that ideally won’t be too prone to sun fading).

These are just a few important things to think about before picking out your fabrics. To grab a list of the exact fabrics I’d choose for specific projects, click the image below!